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Music production tutorial. What is grouping and sub-grouping?

Utilising groups and sub-groups

A simple technique that offers infinite possibilities

If you are not already grouping channels in you DAW then why not? This simple technique can take your music project to a whole other level! Don’t be mistaken in thinking that grouping is just for convenience, there is so much more you can achieve once you begin to group and sub-group your channels. So let’s delve into why this process can be so valuable for your productions!


Life is easier when you work together

Let’s use a drum track as an example. A standard drum track may include a kick, snare, hi-hat, crash and percussion parts, which you have meticulously processed and levelled to create the perfect rhythmic accompaniment to you track. But what happens if you need to adjust the volume of your drum track as a whole? You have the laborious task of changing each channel’s level equally, in order to maintain your original drum mix, just for the sake of a volume change. This is finickity and awkward, and only gets worse the more channels you have in your drum track. Instead, try adding a group/bus and routing the outputs of each drum part to this channel, you then have one fader which you can use to control the level of the entire drum mix. Easy!

Music production tutorial explaining why you should be grouping channels in your mix.

Here I have routed all of my individual drum channels to a ‘master’ drum group.

But, the usefulness of grouping doesn’t stop there, because this group channel can also be used to process the drum mix as a whole. Adding compression, EQ or saturation to glue sounds together, control dynamics and tame unwanted peaks. Or, perhaps, using send effects to apply parallel compression (see how in my ’30 Second Production Tips’) or an overall reverb.

And, don’t forget, this technique is not exclusively for drum tracks! I group guitars, synths, keys and vocals. In fact, all of my layered sounds are routed to groups, to help mix and process them effectively.



Strength in numbers

Grouping can be taken a stage further, thanks to the many routing options in most DAW’s. So, why stop at one group when you can create sub-groups? Routing a number of sub-groups to a master group is a technique I use in most productions. To demonstrate this practically I would like to refer back to drum tracks, although as I mentioned before this process can be applied to any sound source. Most producers like to layer sounds to create bigger sounding drums, for example combining 2 or 3 snares. In this instance I would route all of the snares to a snare group and then route that to a master drum group. This way you have ultimate control over all of the individual parts of your drum tracks as well as the option to control and process the entire drum mix.

Music production tutorial explaining why you should be grouping channels in your mix.

Here I have routed all of my individual drum channels to sub-groups, which are then routed to a ‘master’ drum group.



Breaking it down for multiple uses

Another great way to make use of group channels is for creating custom mixes. An example of this may be routing specific parts of your music project to a group, which then becomes a ‘headphone mix’ for a vocalist. You can even use this technique to create precise headphone mixes for multiple band members.

When used effectively, group channels can be a real time saver, whilst also providing a great deal of creative options. Just be aware, the more channels you have in a project the more demands there are on your CPU.

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